A few weeks ago, a video conference was organised by one of the NGOs in the UK about the impact of Corona virus on ordinary people, and how they have been coping with mental distress and the losses they incurred due to lockdown economically and socially. The interaction session lasted for a few hours during which many interesting tales were shared by participants apart from being isolated and short of money. Most of them felt so positive that the Corona virus, considered a curse on mankind, had turned into a life-changing experience for them.
James, seventy-five years old, had been living with his son and daughter-in-law since five years when he lost his wife to a fatal stroke. Before the outbreak, he had planned to move to an ‘old people’s home’ on March 15 for which all the formalities including payment were done in advance. James had discussed it with his son and daughter-in-law who had strained marital relations and were at the brink of getting divorced. The constant bickering and extreme atmosphere at home was too much to bear and gave him panic attacks. His doctor had advised him to move out of the house as he could afford to stay in the old-home where he could spend the rest of his life in comfort with friends of the same age. His plan of moving to the old people’s home failed due to lockdown.
Martha has been living all alone in her two-bedroom apartment in Manchester. Her three children had moved out for further education and them married and settled in different corners of the country. Her husband had left her soon after three kids were born. She had to bring them up single-handedly until they got established with degrees and families of their own. Easter and Christmas is the only time of the year when they come and rejoice the festival with their mother. Rest of the year, it is either greeting cards or weekly phone call that keep them connected to each other. This year Martha had invited her two sisters, who have been living in Germany, to join for Easter. It was after almost three years that all siblings had planned to get together and enjoy the festival like old times when Martha’s parents would gather all relations for big feast at Easter or Christmas. Unfortunately, Corona virus dashed the plan of getting together.
Then there was Tracy, who after completing her nursing training, was lucky to join one of the famous hospitals in London she had dreamt of throughout her studies. Tracy had vowed of becoming the second ‘Florence Nightingale’ by serving sick and needy people. The time virus had increased the number of patients in hospital she had just started her new job and yet to get used to cries and wails of patients. Covid19 patients were coming in droves with numerous problems due to which she was overcome with grief and succumbed to stress. Ultimately, she became a patient and escaped a near death experience.
Patterson has been a staunch supporter of Brexit policy of Conservative government and had mobilised thousands in Birmingham to vote in favour of it. He believed that sending millions of immigrants back to their home countries would not only provide job safety to natives in the UK, but would also eliminate the extremism and crime that they carry from the countries of their origin. Patterson has spoken openly against extremism or women wearing hijab or asking them to integrate with the mainstream if they want to stay here. After Brexit was done, he had planned to launch a major campaign across the country to make commercial institutions hire only natives and not coloured people. In the wake of the Corona epidemic he had to abandon the plan.
Christine had decided to get married two years ago when a major disaster struck her. Doctors had diagnosed cancer in the uterus after medical examination and she was told that she had only two years to live, though the constant treatment and therapy would be done to save her life. The two year long treatment had finished in February. She had vowed to get married before her death, so had fixed the marriage ceremony in March. April was the last month of Christine’s life according to doctor’s prognosis. She decided to marry and spend the last month of her life with her fiancée on a cruise ship. Coruna did not let her wish come true.
All these lives got completely transformed due to the pandemic.
James related that out of the 25 elderly people in the old people’s home he had to move in with, only ten inmates survived whereas all the other old people died due to covid19. He said, “Since I was suffering from asthma, the Corona virus could have been fatal for me. I survived the lockdown, bickering and tense atmosphere. During the lockdown, I got a chance to speak to my son and daughter-in-law several times and succeeded in relieving the tension between them. Miraculously, the two agreed to reconcile and give one more chance to their relationship. In return for my mediation, they made me to promise that I will give up the idea of moving to an old home. They pledged to take care of me until I die and since then, we have become one happy go lucky family.”
Martha spent Easter alone. She donated her Easter budget to a charity that works for the welfare of homeless people. Unfortunately, one of Martha’s sisters has died in Germany from Corona virus. The children call their mother almost daily about her well being, which rarely happened before pandemic. Martha says “that the lockdown did not allow us to see each other physically, but it did bring her closer to her children. I see their faces every day through video chat and my grandchildren cemented our bonding by calling me. I’m not alone anymore and have been able to see my children following ‘social bubble’ policy of government. Our relation has become much stronger than before”.
Tracy’s life changed dramatically when she caught a virus while on duty at the hospital. She had to spend two weeks in the intensive care unit in the same hospital she was working and has been advised to carry out further self isolation until her breathing becomes normal again. Tracy says she had not yet got a chance to fulfil her dream of becoming a Florence, but she had been able to see many Nightingales with her own eyes serving patients who were suffering with the Corona virus. Seeing the selfless service of these angels, her determination has strengthened so much that when she recovers, she will make her dream come true even if it means sacrificing her life for this cause. She is confident to get the title of Florence in future.
Peter was devastated to learn that he had contracted the virus at one of the gatherings in Birmingham. Due to severe illness, he couldn’t buy food or medicine which he had run out of soon after lockdown in the country. Peter contacted one of the volunteer organizations in his vicinity and requested them to provide him food and medicine. Next day, a coloured man originally from Dhaka brought food, served and cleaned him. Then, in the evening an African boy left the medicine at the doorstep. The process continued for six weeks until he recovered and lockdown was eased out. Peter admitted on a radio station that the so-called immigrants, against whom he had planned to launch a campaign to expel them from the country, had given him a new lease of life by teaching a lesson in humanity. He said “my thinking has changed altogether and I intend to start a mobilisation policy that will work for equal rights and opportunities for immigrants in the UK. I have bought many books on Islam to get the essence of this great religion”.
Christine says she did not go on the cruise and marriage did not happen. She spent the last month of her life in her home in isolation. Due to severe mental stress, she had to get re-admitted in the hospital where the tests were resumed. “I had mentally prepared myself for death when a team of doctors came to me and revealed that there was no cancer in my uterus. I asked repeatedly doctors for confirmation who advised me to leave the hospital, marry, have kids and lead a normal life”. Christine’s wedding is scheduled for November, and I, on her behalf, invite everyone to come to give her blessings for a long married life.
Listening to their stories, deaths across the globe, pain and agony of not saying goodbye to departing ones, I was thinking why we make plans when we have no control over the next moment of our life. Instead of making big plans, isn’t it worth living in the present moment and enjoying its bliss. Ask Almighty to give us courage and strength to stand firm on the ground in times of crisis and chaos. I hope people in my motherland will stay positive despite odds and oddities.
(Writer, a columnist, is an ex editor of BBC).